Hoofing It.


I have always been a big fan of horses. When I was young, I used to ask my dad to draw horses for me by copying it straight off a book. Once I was able to go horse riding on my own at our annual family vacation spot, my love for equestrian was complete.

But my love for horses were restricted more to the common breeds like the Arabian Thoroughbreds and the Shire horses. I was in the dark where war horses were concerned, especially those that were ridden during the medieval era when knights and lords went to war to conquer, raid and pillage.

In the current book that I’m reading, ‘Sworn Sword’ by James Aitcheson, he mentioned three types of war horses that were commonly used by knights during the medieval times — destrier, courser and rouncey.

Medieval War Horses

You see, much of the medieval European society was built upon the strong and sturdy shoulders of a noble horse. Noble horses played an important role in many aspects of life for all classes of the medieval population, from farmers to soldiers to even the royalty, shouldering tasks as diverse as carrying ladies, pulling ploughs and charging into battle. Having said that, however, the same type of horse could not be used for everything, so horses were then bred for specific purposes. Back in those days, the word ‘breed’ was not as commonly used as it is today, so they were referred to as ‘types’ instead, and each type had different uses.

The most common types of war horses were called chargers, of which there were three subtypes known as destriers, coursers and rounceys. Chargers were more likely seen as compact and powerful but agile horses. Knights seldom rode these war horses anywhere except into battle and they would have squires who would usually lead them by rein of control from the back of a more common mount. This was so that the charger’s strength and energy was spared when needed for battle.


Notice the strong torso, thick neck and sturdy, muscular legs of a Friesian horse.

The destriers were the royalty of medieval horses; beautiful, well-bred and resembled the modern baroque of horse breeds such as the Friesian and the Pure Spanish Horse. They were extremely strong yet agile, and were popular choices for jousting despite the high price tag. Their peculiar name comes from the Latin word dextarius, or “on the right side”, because of the way squires would lead the destriers from horseback in their right hands, thus controlling their own mounts with the left.

Some believed that the most appropriate destrier of choice would be the Friesian or the Spanish Andalusian. This was due to the reason that as a horse bred for the battlefield, the animal had to be roughly the size of a modern heavy hunter with a deep chest and heavy bones, yet quick on its feet as well. William the Conqueror had ridden an Andalusian stallion, which were considerably the Cadillac of destriers, at the Battle of Hastings.


Battle of Hastings by Tom Lovell (1)
Notice the smaller frame (built for speed) of a courser compared to that of a destrier.

The coursers were lighter, faster and slightly cheaper than the destriers, but more expensive than the rounceys. They were also a common choice as medieval war horses, and were occasionally preferred over the destriers because of their lightweight size and speed. Coursers can also be used for hunting and racing, but they were still able to be bred and trained for the battlefield as well.


Rounceys were often used as a secondary horse, usually carrying items for the knight.

The rounceys are the cheapest of the three, and usually an animal of choice for a poorer knight, man-at-arms, or squire. These horses were plain, general-purpose beasts who were more suitable for everyday transport and being used as packhorses but never for pulling carts. Yet, they can still be trained for war if the need arises. Rich knights, however, were often supplied with rounceys more for the casual mounting rather than being in the middle of battle.

So there you go, now we have a small reference post on medieval war horses, though not as extensive as if you were to actually Google them in the first place. But where Friesians are concerned, it makes destriers my favourite type of horse.

What’s your favourite type of horse?

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